At the same time, it is urging that the scheme is extended to all 4.7m children in state-funded primary schools to increase their intake of fruit and veg and get them into the habit of eating it.
Sofia Parente, Sustainable Food Places Campaigns and Policy Coordinator at Sustain says: "This could be a win-win for the Government. Making it easier for farmers to sell their produce into schools would help support farmers through the pandemic and embed good eating habits in our children."
“The scheme is worth £40m but only 30%-40% of the produce is British, including only 13% of apples and 5% of pears.
“It’s the peak of harvest in the UK for apples, pears and other fruit and vegetables, but growers are struggling with a 15% increase in labour costs due to Covid-19 issues, on top of a 34% rise in labour costs over the past five years.
“The scheme is an ideal market for small apples and pears as they cannot go anywhere else in the marketplace and are ideal for small children.
“We are calling for the expansion and re-specification of the School Fruit and Veg Scheme as one of five measures to improve children’s health in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”
Sustain has made a formal submission to the Treasury, is lobbying MPs to call on Government to invest in children’s health, and is in touch with a number of stakeholders in the Fruit & Veg Alliance convened by the Food Foundation, including the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Defra.
The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme currently provides a free piece of fruit or vegetable each school day to 2.3m children in KS1 in 16,600 state-funded primary schools in England. It aims to address the historically low levels of fruit and vegetable intake in children.
Sofia continues: “We strongly support the recommendations of The National Food Strategy to address food poverty and inequality. Alongside an increase in the number of children and families eligible to free school meals, holiday programmes and Healthy Start, expanding the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme to all children in primary school would help to level off some of the inequalities in access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Ensuring every child in primary school eats one portion of fruit and vegetables would be a game-changer given the low levels of fruit and veg eaten by children, and would provide a safety net to complement free school meals for children in the most food insecure and lower-income households.”
She said growers complained that the scheme is currently too complicated for them to access and that the price they are offered does not cover the cost of production.
“Expanding the scheme and re-specifying the contract to include British produce would increase the value of the supply contract by at least another £40m and generate additional demand for British fruit and vegetables.
“The scheme procures 437m pieces of fruit and vegetables and expanding it to all children in primary school would require additional 456m pieces.”